Perception RLS

In the first TOK lesson back from summer, we reviewed the different Areas of Knowledge that we learnt about, and started considering the different Ways of Knowing.

One real-life example that came to mind after the discussions in class is one that is very current and one that I may wish to expand and extrapolate to use as a part of my final presentation.

Natural sciences are perceived as factual, suggesting that scientists should agree more or less with one another concerning factual arguments based on data. However, as seen by the growing debate about Covid-19, it is evident that scientists constantly contradict each other in numerous aspects regarding Covid, such as the use of chloroquine as a treatment or the classification of Covid-19 as a global pandemic etc.

If the research and the science behind chloroquine was truly objective and scientific, it would be understandable to have some level of disagreement but it would be nowhere near the elevation of banning chloroquine as a whole today. Perhaps the information produced is factual, but scientists interprete the evidence with a biased view, and thus creates a narrative that is subjective and manipulative to the common people today. In addition, as the natural sciences tend to be inclined to express certainty (not absolute of course), this contradiction has influenced greatly the perception of the general public on the ‘truth’ behind chloroquine. Perhaps there is no ‘truth’ in terms of definitive that chloroquine is or isn’t the drug to use as that in itself is an opinion, instead of a fact.

What is produced in scientific studies is often simply a set of numbers. However, it is the scientists responsibility to interprete and relay that information to the public, often subconsciously placing emphasise on conveying the belief of the individual through their interpretation and conclusion drawn from such researches.

Perhaps another point that is worth considering is how such bans and debates affect the effect of the drug? Discussed in class, we talked about how one’s belief and perception of receiving a beneficial drug can improve one’s health condition even if it was just a placebo. Chloroquine is widely used as a treatment for Covid-19 in numerous countries such as India and Greece. By being exposed to such information, the patients receiving the treatment in these countries may seem to question and have doubt in the effectiveness of the drug, hence the possibility that their health is hindered merely by the hesitation in the certainty of the drug’s effectiveness.

Language also forms a big part of perception, such as the debate about whether to classify Covid-19 as a pandemic or not in the early stages of the outbreak. A pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”. By putting the tag of a pandemic to Covid, the perception of the virus changes rapidly from a viral infection, to the extrapolated fear of a global disaster on a much larger scale. Although objectively, it is simply just a large number of viral infections, the emotions it induces is completely different. Its negative connotation changes the way people perceive and react to information, inducing fear and panic from people which is perhaps why some countries refused to classify it as a pandemic at first. Although perhaps it would have encouraged the global community to act more urgently and treated more seriously, which might’ve meant that people started wearing masks and washing their hands earlier on, and thus the situation might not be as bad as it is now.



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1 comment

  1. Thank you Jovce for this wide ranging and thoughtful post. Covid-19 is indeed a rich source of TOK materials. Just started a language point; I think the labelling of the term ‘pandemic’ is indeed an interesting. I Think I may have mentioned how the word ‘genocide’ has been politicised and used By different countries in different ways; so it is interesting that the term ‘pandemic’ has come under exactly same scrutiny.

    The evidence around the chloroquine drug is also fascinating. I’m not quite sure what to make of your post; You seem to be suggesting that it’s not a good idea for scientists to say that it is ineffective (Perhaps because it might even have placebo effect). And of course there is a very important point here; which is that scientists do not come to absolutely definitive conclusions. They can only approach the truth and should always accept that new evidence may prove their tentative conclusions are incorrect.

    I’m not sure though that that means they should never come to make any public communications at all – as perhaps you seem to suggest. However there is another point here which is that the General public thinks of the science as giving us facts; Indisputable truths. And that means that when scientists change their minds, or when new evidence arises, that some of the general public think that there must be a conspiracy or a hoax or something

    In other words, as I think you suggest,The natural sciences are inevitably mixed with the human sciences and with communication biases and logical fallacies whenever they try to make their findings public. This is indeed a very rich vein to For your presentation.

    Thank you very much for this very interesting first post Joyce and for your participation in the lesson.
    See you tomorrow

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